With February ending, Black History Month is also coming to an end. But March brings us Women’s History Month! Like a broken record, I’ll say, representation matters. (The changing of these months, though, should remind us to keep intersectionality in mind as well.) This repeated mantra may feel a bit stale without a solution to the question: how can we get better representation in our games and media? One answer would be to diversify the creative forces. Today, I want to talk about some of the efforts to improve this deficiency.
A couple of weeks ago, blogger Pamela Ribon stumbled onto a travesty. A children’s book had been unearthed that set pretty much everyone’s teeth on edge. Aimed at young girls and titled Barbie: I Can Be a Computer Engineer, the book ostensibly should have added another skill set to the wide scope of jobs that Barbie has laid claim to. However, instead of actually showing Barbie as a talented programmer, it instead portrayed her struggling with the basics. She works on a website as part of a team, but isn’t doing any of the programming—she’s just contributing the graphic design. And while graphic design isn’t a shitty profession or anything, the book isn’t titled “I Can Be A Web Designer”. While creating her cutesy puppy designs, she accidentally crashes her own computer, and when she switches to her sister Skipper’s laptop, she gives it a virus and wipes all her sister’s files. She takes the computer to make her male programmer friends fix it, and they do so easily—and when Barbie gets home, she takes full credit to Skipper for fixing both.
And people wonder why women are underrepresented in STEM careers. What girl who reads this is going to think they actually can be a computer engineer? As Ribon’s friend pointed out:
Steven and Brian are nice guys, I’m sure. But Steven and Brian are also everything frustrating about the tech industry. Steven and Brian represent the tech industry assumption that only men make meaningful contributions. Men fix this, men drive this and men take control to finish this. Steven and Brian don’t value design as much as code. Steven and Brian represent every time I was talked over and interrupted — every time I didn’t post a code solution in a forum because I didn’t want to spend the next 72 years defending it. Steven and Brian make more money than I do for doing the same thing. And at the same time, Steven and Brian are nice guys. (x)
Needless to say, the blogosphere was appalled. Thankfully, though, a hashtag movement (#FeministHackerBarbie) quickly began, and the heroine we needed stepped up. Programmer Kathleen Tuite created the Feminist Hacker Barbie site by uploading images from the original Barbie book and allowing other people to re-caption the pages so that Barbie actually sounded like she knew a thing or two about computers.